Magazine Article | July 1, 2001

RFID: The Ultimate In Car Security

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

The country's largest auto dealer, AutoNation, chooses an RFID vehicle "immobilizer" system for its 516 nationwide dealerships.

Integrated Solutions, July 2001

The rapid deployment of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology remains mired in a sea of standards and high-priced hardware. Yet, its few existing applications have already created a public perception that this technology is ubiquitous. Point of sale transactions, automatic toll collectors, and animal tracking are all examples of well-known RFID applications.

Recently, Ford and Toyota incorporated RFID into the security systems of select new vehicles. Now, thousands of new car and truck owners rely on this technology to disable their vehicles in the case of a theft attempt. This security process is accomplished by embedding RFID chips and antennas into a vehicle's ignition system and the owner's key fob. The chip in the fob sends a signal to the antenna in the steering column allowing the vehicle to be started. If the key fob isn't present, the vehicle can't be started.

Bruce McKinley quickly saw the implications this technology (and the auto industry's support of it) was going to have on his company. McKinley, CEO of Dealer Security Solutions (DSS) (Rancho Cordova, CA), specializes in selling aftermarket auto security systems to car dealers. "The allure of an RFID anti-theft device is its simplicity," McKinley explained. "There are no buttons to press or codes to remember as in the previous systems we were offering. Add to that the support of major auto manufacturers, and you have a whole new security industry." For McKinley, offering anything less than RFID seemed like trying to sell old technology. Thus, he began researching RFID in 1999.

The Evolution Of Integrating RFID
McKinley contacted Texas Instruments (TI) (Dallas) and ultimately obtained a licensing agreement to use a TI application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). An ASIC controls the reading and timing of the data transfer. DSS then developed a generic RFID reader that could be used in any application and would operate at temperatures down to -67 F. Finally, using that reader, the company developed its TRIAD (transponder response ignition authorization device) auto immobilizer.

For TRIAD, DSS uses 134.2 kHz read-write card or 32 mm capsule transponders. The read range for these transponders is from 6 to 14 inches. Each transponder is preprogrammed with a unique ID code. The transponders are embedded into a precision laser-cut key fob.

A small red and green LED (light emitting diode) module with a speaker is mounted on the vehicle's dashboard below the steering column. The RFID antenna is installed around the lock cylinder. Presenting the system with a programmed key fob or card changes the LED light to green and allows the ignition key to be turned.

A Technology That Reduces Insurance Premiums
"There are really two end users for this product," McKinley explained. "First, the auto dealership adds the TRIAD system to reduce theft from the car lot. In fact, adding this type of security device can reduce a dealership's insurance premium. The dealer can then offer the already installed immobilizer to the customer, who is the second end-user."

If the customer doesn't want the TRIAD system, the dealer disables the system using a programming card supplied by DSS. The same card is used to reprogram the TRIAD system if the customer decides to purchase this security option.

To reprogram TRIAD, the salesperson turns on the vehicle's ignition and shows the system his/her ID badge/transponder card. The salesperson then shows the system the dealership's programming card. The system elicits two quick beeps, indicating the system's memory has been opened. The salesperson then shows the system the key fobs. After each key fob's code has been written to the system's memory, another beep is heard. Now the system is programmed to work only with the new key fobs. The entire programming process takes approximately three minutes.

A Nationwide Rollout
Although over 200 dealerships have invested in DSS' RFID solution, the largest boost for this technology came recently when AutoNation named the DSS TRIAD family of automotive immobilizers a "preferred product." AutoNation is the country's largest auto dealer and sells more than 42,000 cars monthly through its dealer base of 516 nationwide dealerships. The TRIAD product is recommended for installation on all new and used cars on dealer lots.

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